Expectation-laden Bible Reading


When you willingly set out to read the Bible from cover-to-cover there are obstacles you envision in your path – like rocky mountain peaks in the distance that you know you’ll need to traverse. Unfortunately, for many of us, those mountains aren’t as ‘in the distance’ as we’d like them to be, and they have daunting names like Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. They terrify, for we all know that they are nothing but mundane recitations of names and instructions and numbers.


Let’s not kid ourselves, even the most impassioned proponent of reading the Bible must admit that there is a sort of fear about having to read through these books of the Bible. A story is told of a lady who was asked if she had ever read the Bible from cover-to-cover: “I have never read it through, though I have read much of it consecutively. Three times I have started to read it through, but each time I have broken down in Leviticus. I have enjoyed Genesis and Exodus, but Leviticus has seemed such dull reading that I have become discouraged and have given up.”[1]

Unfortunately, much of the fear about having to read these books of the Bible – and therefore the impediment to many people even bothering to start reading the Bible cover-to-cover – is based in the stories people have heard about having to read these books, rather than any actual experience in having to do so, and the mindset taken into reading in the first place.

And the evidence doesn’t necessarily match up with reality.

The beginning of 2017 saw me begin to read the Bible cover-to-cover. It’s not a New Year’s Resolution, but rather God has used the last few months to help me realise my need to re-prioritise and re-focus my ‘quiet time’ with Him.

I, too, have lived in fear of having to read Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy – wishing only to speed and skim through them to get to the book of Joshua (an obvious favourite). However, I nevertheless committed myself to reading each page that I turned, without trying to rush through them – and I discovered something interesting. Two things, actually.

Firstly, even during those passages which were recitations of lists, construction components, and instructions, I found myself unusually captivated. I realised that, if nothing else – even if I was reading what amounted to a carpenter’s instruction guide – I was still reading the Words of God – and “All Scripture is inspired by God” (2 Timothy 3:16). David Mathis describes this as “The X Factor in Bible Reading”:

“The Bible is no magic book, but a strange, enigmatic power stirs when we reach for the Scriptures. Something influential, though invisible, is happening as we hear God’s words read or spoken, and when we read or study. Something supernatural, but unseen, transpired as we see the text in front of us and take it into our souls. Someone unseen moves.”[2]

The second thing I discovered was that there are fewer lists and repetition than I had been lead to believe. True, Leviticus has its fair share of building and offering instructions, but we are also taken into the spiritual practices of the Israelites – the methods and practice of how God intended His people to be set apart as His Holy people. Numbers might start with a lot of organisational and hierarchical charts, but we’re also taken into the wilderness with the disobedient Israel (and poor Caleb and Joshua tagging along for the ride).

No doubt I will encounter further mountainous Biblical regions in my journey, but already the way ahead looks much flatter and more attractive than when I first started out. The mountain ranges that I thought I saw in my path turned out to only be minor hills, and my travels have proven to be of much greater benefit than any inconvenience posed by those hills. As I continue down this path, I am doing so with the expectation that God will join me, and will reveal to me new pastures in which I can rest and hidden streams from which I can drink. The difference, I have found, is to expect that God’s Word is exactly that — God’s Word to us — and that He intends for us to benefit from reading His story.

[1] J. Sidlow Baxter, Explore the Book, Book I, p. 113.
[2] David Mathis, habits of grace, p. 52

— Image Credit: Olga Caprotti via Flickr (CC BY-NC 2.0)